U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Auto Dealer Failed to Hired Qualified Applicant Because He Refused to Shave His Beard Because of His Sikh Religious Faith, Federal Agency Charges
NEWARK, N.J. - Today the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a religious discrimination suit against Tri-County Lexus, a large dealership in Little Falls, N.J., alleging that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to hire a Sikh man for a sales position solely because he refused to shave his beard, which is required by his faith.
According to the EEOC’s suit, EEOC v. United Galaxy, Inc., d/b/a Tri-County Lexus, filed in U.S. District Court for New Jersey, Gurpreet S. Kherha, who had prior sales experience, applied for a sales position at Tri-County. Tri-County’s recruiter was impressed with Kherha and had him attend a multi-day training at the dealership, the EEOC said. As a Sikh, Kherha wears a beard, long hair and a turban. At the end of the training, Kherha was told the dealership had a grooming policy prohibiting facial hair, and that if he wanted to be hired he would have to shave his beard. When Kherha refused to do so because of his religious practices, he was rejected for the sales position.
“Where a reasonable accommodation can be made, the law prevents an employer from requiring an employee to choose between being hired and following his or her religious practices,” said Spencer H. Lewis, director of the EEOC’s New York District Office. “Permitting Mr. Kherha to wear his beard because of his religious beliefs would not have been a burden on the dealership; instead, this would have given the dealership the benefit of a well qualified salesperson.”
Jeffrey Burstein, a trial attorney in EEOC’s Newark Area Office, said, “Title VII requires an employer to explore reasonable alternatives to its work rules to enable employees to follow their religious beliefs. Tri-County Lexus failed in this obligation.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.